His responsibilities were so enormous and his objectives were so grandiose that Adolf Hitler simply could not afford any political opposition. Consequently, he needed a powerful national political police force that will make sure that all political opposition is eliminated in the shortest possible and never ever “returns from the dead”.
One of his enormous responsibilities was to radically increase material and emotional well-being of Germans. To achieve this objective, he obviously had to radically bring down street crime and ideally to eliminate organized crime altogether. And keep it that way, of course. Which required a very powerful national criminal police force.
He faced a very serious obstacle – traditionally, law enforcement functions in Germany were relegated to local, municipal and state (Land) governments. This tradition was so entrenched that it took him more than three years to establish the genuinely national police force that will combine political, criminal and order police.
On June 17th, 1936, Hitler signed into law the decree of the unification of all police forces in Germany and appointed SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to the position of Chief of German Police.
In this position Himmler was nominally subordinate to Wilhelm Frick (Reich Interior Minister), but as Reichsführer-SS, he answered only to Hitler personally. By that time the SS was already far more powerful than the Interior Ministry (the latter being just a typical civilian bureaucracy) so it is no surprise at all that in no time all German police forces (all three of them – political, order and criminal) – were de-facto absorbed into the SS.
Himmler divided his police empire into two components – Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei – SiPo) that united Gestapo (political police) and Kripo (criminal police) into a single organization and Order Police (Ordnungspolizei – OrPo).
SiPo was functionally identical to the FBI (which was rumored to be Himmler’s inspiration); only in Nazi Germany, unlike in the United States there was no local, municipal or even state police force after 1936. OrPo included not only uniformed police, but also all emergency response organizations, including fire brigades, coast guard, factory security guards, civil defense, etc.
In addition, Himmler had under his command another organization that performed security functions, only for the SS and NSDAP, not the Nazi State. It was the SS Intelligence Service (Sicherheitsdienst – SD).
It had two branches. The first one was domestic intelligence (Inland-SD), a rough equivalent of present-day BfV (German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (German – Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz). The second one was foreign intelligence (Ausland-SD), a rough equivalent of present-day CIA or MI-6.
The most “functionally rich” (by far) was Ordnungspolizei (OrPo). It performed thirteen police and related functions and thus included the following components (departments):
- Administration was (among other responsibilities) the command authority for civilian law enforcement groups, which included the Gesundheitspolizei (health police), Gewerbepolizei (commercial or trade police), and the Baupolizei (building police).
- State protection police was state uniformed police in cities and most large towns, which included police-station duties and barracked police units for riots and public safety.
- Municipal protection police was a municipal uniformed police in smaller and some large towns. Although fully integrated into the Ordnungspolizei-system, its police officers were municipal civil servants. The civilian law enforcement in towns with a municipal protection police was not done by the Verwaltungspolizei (central OrPo office), but by municipal civil servants. Until 1943 they also had municipal criminal investigation departments, but that year, all such departments with more than 10 detectives, were integrated into the Kripo.
- Gendarmerie (state rural police) were tasked with frontier law enforcement to include small communities, rural districts, and mountainous terrain. With the development of a network of motorways or Autobahnen, motorized gendarmerie companies were set up in 1937 to ensure the traffic safety.
- Traffic police (was the traffic-law enforcement agency and road safety administration of Germany. The organization patrolled Germany’s roads (other than motorways which were controlled by Motorized Gendarmerie) and responded to major accidents. The traffic police was also the primary escort service for high Nazi leaders who usually traveled (often covering great distances) by automobile rather than by train or by aircraft.
- Water police was the equivalent of the coast guard and river police. Tasked with the safety and security of Germany’s rivers, harbors, and inland waterways, the group also had authority over the SS-Hafensicherungstruppen (“harbour security troops”) which were Allgemeine-SS units assigned as port security personnel.
- Fire police consisted of all professional fire departments under a national command structure.
- Freiwillige Feuerwehren, the local volunteer civilian fire brigades. At the height of the Second World War, in response to heavy bombing of Germany’s cities, the combined fire police and Freiwillige Feuerwehren numbered nearly two million members.
- Fire Departments – volunteer fire departments, conscripted fire departments and industrial fire departments were auxiliary police subordinate to the Ordnungspolizei.
- Security and Assistance Service – emergency response force, roughly equivalent to FEMA in the United States if viewed together with Technical Emergency Corps (TeNo) – a corps of engineers, technicians and specialists in construction work that in 1937 became a technical auxiliary corps of the German police.
- Radio protection (Funkschutz) was made up of SS and Orpo security personnel assigned to protect German broadcasting stations from attack and sabotage. The Funkschutz was also the primary investigating service which detected illegal reception of foreign radio broadcasts.
- Postal protection (Postschutz) comprised roughly 45,000 members and was tasked with the security of Germany’s Reichspost, which was responsible not only for the mail but other communications media such as the telephone and telegraph systems.
- Railway police (Bahnschutzpolizei) tasked with ensuring the security of passenger and freight railway traffic and railway infrastructure.
- Factory protection police (Werkschutzpolizei) were the security guards of Nazi Germany. Its personnel were civilians employed by industrial enterprises, and typically were issued paramilitary uniforms.
The only problem with thus structure was that it artificially separated Gestapo and Kripo with the SD intelligence agency. Although the latter was formally the Party, not the state organization, in reality it served both supplying both components of SiPo with vital domestic and foreign intelligence information.
Hence, it was not a surprise at all that on September 27th. 1939 Himmler combined Gestapo, Kripo and SD into Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt – RSHA). Gestapo became Amt IV (Department IV), Kripo Amt V, Inland-SD Amt III and Ausland-SD Amt VI.
The RSHA was often abbreviated to RSi-H in correspondence to avoid confusion with the SS-Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt (RuSHA; “SS Race and Settlement Office”) which was established earlier – in 1931 (even before Nazis came to power).